By Noe Ponce (Inohe)
Elves and Lizardmen and… rats??? Oh my! What should come as a surprise to absolutely no one is that the Skaven, a vile, innumerable race of technologically advanced rats, will be the fourth playable race in the upcoming Total War sequel, Total War: Warhammer II. OnRPG attended a preview session this past weekend to try the new race out and experience the game first hand. We came back loving the rats and had an odd hankering for cheese and destruction…
The Skaven are terrifying and play/build in a very unique way compared to the other races. This is most apparent in their settlements. They are all built below ground, entirely out of view of the enemy unless they stray too close and by then, it’s already too late. It’s these stealthy, subterranean cities of evil rats that make up the aptly named “Under-Empire.”
In an interview with Al Bickham, Creative Assembly’s Development Communication Manager, he describes what it’s like when an enemy comes across a Skaven settlement and what happens after they do.
“This is one of my settlements. It’s just ruins. I can tell it’s mine because it has flags on it but the enemy won’t see that, they’ll just see the ruins. They’ll be like ‘Oh, I can go and settle there’ or delve it for treasure because you can delve ruins for treasure now, or some buffs or some debuffs or something like that. There’s all sorts of things you can find underground. But if an enemy army comes and interacts with that pile of ruins, they’ll suddenly see a 10-slot city, with a giant army and a garrison down there. At that point you can spring out and attack them.”
The Skaven, being rulers of the underground, come with a unique army ability called “The Menace Below.“ This skill allows the player to summon a unit of burrowing Clanrats to enter the fray anywhere on the battlefield. These rats are essentially a bunch of redshirts designed to die. In our interview, Bickham describes how best to use the skill.
“You swarm the enemy with masses of cheap, expendable units. They’re called Skaven slaves and Clanrats and their only trait is ‘meat shield.’ They’re basically there to throw at the enemy and you don’t care if they live or die because they’re cheap, they’re two a penny and you can always get some more. And that’s when you start engaging your super high tech-crazy-steampunk-monster units to go in and do the real pointed damage.”
An interesting tactic he later mentioned is that The Menace Below can help combat ranged units. If the enemy has any artillery or archers peppering your forces from afar, spawn a group of Clanrats beneath them and they will immediately stop firing in order to fight the newly appeared rats.
The Skaven have more going for them besides hidden cities and overwhelming numbers however. A lot more. Bickham describes the Skaven as on par with the Dwarves in terms of tech and weaponry, making them the most technologically advanced race of the four in Total War: Warhammer II. As mentioned in a previous quote above, the Skaven have “super high tech-crazy-steampunk-monster units.” Monster units is a great way to describe them too.
One is dubbed the “Doomwheel” which looks like a massive hamster wheel from hell that just mows enemies down. The other actually could be from hell and is named thusly. Bickham describes the Hell Pit Abomination, as “a foul, desecrated beast of evil.” Terrifying, nightmarish creatures can’t get a better description than that. The Hell Pit Abomination is not only strong though. If the enemy manages to kill it, it might decide to get right back up… or explode and leave behind a group of killer rats with a taste for flesh.
The Skaven, being rats and all, are ravenous eaters. So much so, that food is one of their core resources and they get buffs for having a lot it. You can even spend food to upgrade a city. On the other side of that coin however, there are crippling debuffs if your food stock ever gets in the red. You gain food by winning battles, taking over settlements, farming, raiding enemy lands and EATING prisoners. Gnarly.
At this preview event we also learned more about the upcoming campaign (it’s all about the vortex) and many of the changes that are being implemented in the new game coming out this fall. Bickham was very excited to share this news with all of us at the event.
“In this game, this is the first we’ve ever done this. We got this narrative structure which leads you and builds crescendo up to an end game point where you win the game OR the A.I. wins the game and you lose the game. And it’s all about who gains control of the vortex. Who gets to dominate the vortex and carry out their final victory conditions.”
There are five rituals that must be completed and they scale difficulty as your progress. Essentially, when you begin a ritual, all hell breaks loose for 10 turns. And while you do get a lot of nice buffs during this time, you’re still in for a bad time. Bickham refers to these 10 turns as a storm you have to weather.
“What rituals entail, it’s basically a big spell going off for like 10-turns and it involves some of your settlements. You’ll get attacks by loads of stuff. Chaos will slip into the world and attack you, other races will try and intervene. You’re basically under siege for ten turns. We give the player a load of buffs; we give them big cash injections and stuff to help them kind of weather the storm. And once you get through that storm, the ritual has been cast and you can then continue filling your bar up to get to the next ritual. The severity of what you get attacked by increases with each ritual. And likewise, if the enemy kicks off a ritual you can go and attack their settlements with your forces.”
Some final things Bickham touched on at the event were rites and universal territory capture. Rites are essentially massive spells that take up a load of resources but can really be game changers during a campaign. While he didn’t go into much detail, he did mention that one of the Dark Elves’ rites is called a Dark Ark. Dark Arks have their roots in the Dark Elves backstory and are full fledged cities that can float and move on water. In addition to being a mobile city, these arks can even bombard enemy units with heavy artillery that are within its range.
Last but certainly not least is the universal territory capture. This was actually a player requested change Creative Assembly decided honor and as the name suggests, allows players to capture any territory they want, no matter the race that controls it. But there’s a catch.
“Your faction that you’re playing has its own perfect climate type that it comes from. So if you play as the Lizardmen and you start in Lustria, it’s like dense humid jungles. If you go and capture territory in the north, where it’s icy black obsidian, it’s freezing cold. That’s not great territory for cold-blooded lizard creatures. So if you go and capture there, there will be loads of debuffs for that city. Units won’t replenish as quickly when they’re damaged and you’ll probably have public order problems. It’s not perfect but the important thing is that you CAN take the land. And sometimes it’s worth it facing those negatives because having a recruitment center in enemy territory is useful.”
Total War: Warhammer II was a ton of fun to play. Combat was fluid, the abilities and units felt very impactful and the numerous strategies you can implement truly make you feel like commander, leading an army to victory. And at the end of the day, I feel like that’s what the Total War series is all about.
We here at OnRPG would like to thank Creative Assembly and the PR team at Clever Communications for allowing us a chance to experience this amazing game ahead of time. With so many great things on the horizon for Total War: Warhammer II, September 28 can’t get here soon enough! For additional information, please visit the game’s official website or pre-order it on Steam for only $59.99!